Monday, March 12, 2012

Information from WA State Veterinarian's Office About Health Certificate Requirements

A concerned citizen wrote to the Washington State Veterinarian's office with some questions about health certificates. Dr. Paul Kohrs, the assistant state veterinarian, was kind enough to reply, and to give his permission for his letters on the topic to be posted publicly. The citizen shared their emails with us and gave permission to reprint them, as well.

The citizen asked if health certificates were required for small animals with little to no health risk coming into the state for a brief visit. They also inquired whether a health check at an event such as a show would meet the requirements and substitute for a health certificate.

They also said,

I called every veterinarian in the phone book in [nearest city across a state line] and found that the average price for a health certificate is $100 for one animal. Most of the clinics would not even do CVIs for animals other than cats and dogs, period--especially small animals like pocket pets. Many also gave little to no discount for multiple animals getting veterinary certificates at once.

This fits with what others who have attempted to obtain health certificates for animals other than cats and dogs have shared with me, also. It is very difficult and expensive to obtain a veterinary certificate, especially for small animals other than cats and dogs, since finding a vet who will even see them is impossible in some locales.

The way the law is written, it appears that even an earthworm would require a health certificate to be brought into the state on a brief visit. (It's fairly common for earthworms to be raised for bait or for redworm composting, and quite possible they could be brought across state lines that way--and earthworms are not insects.)

For small animals like cavies, rabbits, hamsters or earthworms, what is the purpose of requiring a health certificate for things like a brief visit by private conveyance into the state, since there are no testing or vaccines required that need to be verified?

Are there any diseases that would be dangerous to humans or other types of animals that a rabbit, for instance, would be likely to carry? Or any reportable diseases that would not be apparent to a lay person but that a vet would find in a simple examination without running any tests?

I would like to better understand what benefit is gained by this requirement when it is so costly and difficult to fulfill.

How does the state calculate that the benefit/cost analysis works with these types of animals, when the cost of meeting requirements to bring one of these small animals into the state is higher than the cost of replacing a whole herd of them would be? Especially when there is little to no risk to any other species.

If it cost that many times the value of a cow every month just to meet the requirements to bring it across state lines, I imagine that would have a pretty significant impact on the cattle industry.

Thank you again,


Dr. Kohrs' first reply:
Dear _______,

I have been asked to help clarify the meaning and reasoning in developing regulations for the importation of livestock and other animals into the State of Washington. To begin, allow me to repeat what Ms. Jones emphasized in an earlier note;
     The Mission of the Animal Health program is to:
  • Protect and enhance animal health and animal well being.

  • Promote the economic vitality of the livestock industry by minimizing exposure to animal diseases.
  • Safeguard the citizens of Washington State by identifying and limiting the exposure to zoonotic diseases (transfer from animal to human).

To accomplish this mission, rules and regulations need to be developed and administered in what we feel is a fair and equitable manner. The law states that all animals as defined in Chapter 16.36 RCW are members of the animal kingdom, except humans, fish and insects. To develop regulations for each and every species and subspecies of these smaller animals is a monumental task, the scope of which our department has never had the funding or staff for such an endeavor.

In answer to your statement of these small pets being brought into our state by private conveyance for a brief visit, it is true that we do not require a health certificate (also known as a certificate of veterinary inspection; CVI). If, however, the animal is being imported to a fair or show in Washington, or sold, it must be examined by a licensed and accredited veterinarian to assure it is healthy. One must consider that these animals, although small and cuddly, can carry organisms that can cause disease in other animals and humans also.

For example:
  • Cavies (gerbils) [sic] can have, carry and transmit mites, lice, ringworm, Salmonella, just to name a few
  • Rabbits can have, carry and transmit Pasteurella sp, Bordetella sp, Rabbit diarrhea, Clostridium sp (enterotoxaemia), and Epizootic Rabbit Enteropathy.
  • Hamsters can have, carry and transmit Campylobacter sp, Salmonella sp and ringworm.
  • Earthworms can carry and transmit Histomonas meleagridis that affects turkeys, chickens and other breeds of poultry.
It should also be remembered that any warm blooded mammal can contract rabies, and although rare, it is still possible for a rabbit or cavy to have the disease.

In regards to what veterinarians charge for a CVI, we have no control of nor can we comment on that, as it is up to each individual veterinary practitioner, clinic or hospital.

If you have further comments, please feel free to contact our office.


Paul Kohrs, DVM
Washington State Assistant State Veterinarian

The reply from the inquirer, asking for more clarification:
Dear Dr. Kohrs,

Thank you very much for your reply.

Your letter states,

"In answer to your statement of these small pets being brought into our state by private conveyance for a brief visit, it is true that we do not require a health certificate (also known as a certificate of veterinary inspection; CVI). If, however, the animal is being imported to a fair or show in Washington, or sold, it must be examined by a licensed and accredited veterinarian to assure it is healthy."

This states that a small animal being brought into WA by private conveyance for a brief visit does not require a CVI. I had been given to understand that a CVI was required to bring these animals into the state, so I appreciate the clarification.

I am not quite clear on whether you're saying small animals traveling with their owner by private conveyance to attend a show, etc. need a CVI, or if they just need to be examined by a veterinarian and appear healthy. Do they need to carry a CVI or proof of a veterinary exam with them at all times during their visit to WA, or does the animal just need to be healthy?

Does the animal always have to be examined before being brought into WA, or can it be examined by a veterinarian within WA, such as a situation where a show has a required veterinary exam at the show before the animal is allowed in?

Also, you mentioned several diseases such as Salmonella, Histomonas meleagridis, Clostridium, Pasteurella, Bordatella, etc. that are commonly found asymptomatically in the systems of healthy animals of these species.

Are animals required to be tested for these things? How would a veterinarian ascertain whether an earthworm is carrying Histomonas meleagridis or a hamster is carrying salmonella, for example?

I have connections with rescues also, and frequently animals being rescued do have minor issues like mites, fleas, intestinal parasites, etc.

If it is not a reportable or controlled disease, and is not something that requires vaccines or testing, would such issues prevent an animal from being brought into the state?

Thank you very much,


Dr. Kohrs' reply:
February 21, 2012

Dear ------,

I will try to add more clarity to my last missive. To repeat: all animals entering the State of Washington are required to have a Certificate of Veterinary Inspection (CVI) also known as a health certificate. The exception to this rule is in regards to a dog, cat or ferret coming into this state, being transported in the owner’s vehicle for a brief visit at a private residence, do not need a CVI; however, they are required to have a certificate of rabies vaccination. If there are other animals at this private residence and there is mixing of the animals’, that is a matter between the person importing the animals and the person being visited.

If, on the other hand the animal(s) are being brought into the State of Washington for exhibition/sale at a public arena, the animal(s) are required to be examined by a licensed and accredited veterinarian and be issued a CVI which must accompany the animal(s) being imported. So, to answer your question of the animal being examined by a veterinarian and be issued a CVI before coming to an exhibition/show/sale, the answer is, yes. Bear in mind that the Washington State CVI is valid for only 30 days.

You commented about testing for the organisms mentioned; this would be up to the examining veterinarian. If the animal is showing signs of illness, no matter what the cause, the veterinarian will not issue a CVI. If then the animal’s owner wishes to find out the cause of the illness, tests may then be done to establish a cause. If the animal is asymptomatic and the owner wants to make sure there is no infectious organism being harbored, samples can be taken and tests run to determine if the animal is carrying Salmonella, Clostridium, Bordetella or any or any other known organism. When importing livestock, certain tests for diseases are required before entry into Washington, but not for the animals discussed here. As for rescue animals, we require they have a CVI and be vaccinated against rabies. If dogs are from a heartworm endemic area, they are required to be tested for heartworm and we do the best we can to oversee the importation of these rescue animals. However, we do not have the staff or the funding to cover all the rescue operations and rely on the integrity of the people doing the rescue.

In answer to your lasts [sic] question, I believe it has been taken care of in the body of this letter.


Paul H. Kohrs, DVM

Again, these letters are being published with both original authors' permission.